Women and guilt. Time to let it go

by | Jun 23, 2020

Women feel guilty about... pretty much everything

Women are trained to feel guilty from a young age as we navigate the gender expectations that constrain us. Well it is time to let it all go!

 

Women feel guilty about... pretty much everything. All the time. They feel guilty for working and not working. They worry about being good enough mothers, or being helicopter parents. They feel guilty if they are too assertive or too passive and worry about how they look, or if they are too pre-occupied by their appearance. During the COVID19 lockdown studies suggest that women are interrupted more frequently than their partners by demands from the kids. That is definitely related to guilt. Time to tell your kids to look for their father if he is there and maybe ask why they feel less guilt.

women and guilt

Habitual guilt

Research from the University of the Basque Country published in the Spanish Journal of Psychology found that despite changing attitudes towards interpersonal relationships, women feel significantly more guilt than men. This did not simply reflect higher levels of this emotion in women "but a lack of it in men."

Participants were asked to identify situations in which they felt most guilt. They also completed interpersonal sensitivity tests, the Davis Empathetic Concern Scale, and a questionnaire on Interpersonal Guilt, developed specifically for this research. The research team identified that intensity of habitual guilt was significantly higher for women in all age groups "but particularly in those between 40-50 years." They also identified gender differences in interpersonal sensitivity, although the disparity was less marked in that age group.

Guilt is a form of control

Guilt is a learned condition and for women is over-used. Guilt is a manipulator and an effective way to control. Women are trained to feel guilty from a young age as we navigate the social constructs and gender expectations that constrain us. It forces us to comply to gender stereotypes.  Don’t get dirty, it’s not ladylike. Don’t shout, be polite. If you can’t say something nice, say nothing. We are raised to be kind, considerate and supportive. If you put your hand up in school, you’re a teacher’s pet. If you play sport, you’re a tomboy. Girls as young as seven have eating disorders, as they come to understand the importance of a “perfect” body from airbrushed ads they see in magazines or on Facebook. Women should be sexy, but heaven forbid sexual. That’s loose and slutty. The orgasm is still defined in male terms. Even today. Read slide 1 from a male-start up below which monitors the female orgasm. Yes, really.

Gender stereotypes

Every aspect of our behaviour is defined with negative consequences for not following the stereotype. If we speak up in meetings, we are aggressive. Even senior female politicians are publicly reprimanded for taking the “wrong tone. “  Resilience and perseverance have become the catchword for success. If you have not been able to acquire a new skill during lock down it’s not because you are overwhelmed every waking moment, but because you lack discipline.

If we are sexually assaulted, we ask was it something I said? Was my skirt too short, or had I had too much too drink? Police tell women joggers to protect themselves, not for men not to assault women.

If you struggle with confidence, we can help you with our Returner Roll-Up Session on Building Your Confidence.

Men expect priority. Time to share the load

This is another reason we apologise constantly, even if someone interrupts or bumps into us. We immediately say ”I’m sorry” and take the blame. The Basque University study shows that "levels of interpersonal sensitivity in men (especially those aged between 25-33) was found to be "comparatively low". This could have a negative impact on relationships and social functioning, for example inability to feel empathy for others and failure to take responsibility. "

Or to put it another way - men don't feel guilty if they interrupt someone or push into them. It even has its own word "man slamming."  It's the fault of the other person for being in their way or not knowing when to shut-up. Men expect women to give them priority.

So we talk about women feeling too much guilt, perhaps it's time to share the load and suggest that men should feel more.

Positive sides of guilt

Guilt when correctly applied serves as a way of telling us when we have not behaved in a way that conforms with social norms. It has a positive effect. Research from Baumeister, Stillwell, & Heatherton, 1994; Trivers, in 1985 indicates the beneficial impact of guilt on inter-personal relationships. It influences the decisions we make and motivates us to make amends.  Feeling of guilt can be helpful to manage anger and limit  aggression (Tangney, Wagner, Hill-Barlow, Marschall, & Gramzow, 1996) and promote cooperation (de Hooge, Zeelenberg, & Breugelmans, 2007.) It is a key component in enduring and successful interactions because it steers us away from individualism to thinking through how our behaviour impacts others. It promotes empathy and relates actions to consequences. When we take on too much guilt, it has a corrosive effect on our emotional well-being and serves to stifle us. So, it is tue that women have to let guilt go. But it should also be said that men could perhaps learn to feel more guilt.

Drop the guilt, grow in confidence and make your goals a reality with our Career Coaching for Women program.

 

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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